Thinking Through Signs - The Ayah Zeitgeist

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Elma Berisha

Abstract

Imagine you are living in a seventh-century desert town and a new book, which is not even a ‘book’ yet, is being recited in scattered verses, urging ordinary people to look around for ‘signs’. What would one see in that sky-is-blue earthis-flat age if one had attentively and eagerly looked around? “Then, do they not look at what is before them and what is behind them of the heaven and earth?...Indeed in that is a sign…” (Q.34:9). How to respond to this invitation to probe for signs when there are no telescopes or microscopes available? You would have looked up at the stars unaware that many of them were galaxies. You would have looked at your hands, observed their skin, but without a way to know that it is made up of highly-specialised cells composed of extraordinarily complex and coordinated sub-cellar organelles. To discern signs “in your selves” (Q.51:21) you would have tried to become introspective and look within your mind, but without the slightest chance of fathoming the dynamic nature of your brain’s neurochemical underpinnings. You might have thought for a moment of the languages and dialects heard around you, or of the differing facial features, skin colours or cultural habits of other tribes and nations—all of which the book you have heard recited claims are signs of the greatness of God.

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Elma Berisha

Imagine you are living in a seventh-century desert town and a new book, which is not even a ‘book’ yet, is being recited in scattered verses, urging ordinary people to look around for ‘signs’. What would one see in that sky-is-blue earthis-flat age if one had attentively and eagerly looked around? “Then, do they not look at what is before them and what is behind them of the heaven and earth?...
Indeed in that is a sign…” (Q.34:9). How to respond to this invitation to probe for signs when there are no telescopes or microscopes available? You would have looked up at the stars unaware that many of them were galaxies. You would have looked at your hands, observed their skin, but without a way to know that it is made up of highly-specialised cells composed of extraordinarily complex and coordinated sub-cellar organelles. To discern signs “in your selves” (Q.51:21) you would have tried to become introspective and look within your mind, but without the slightest chance of fathoming the dynamic nature of your brain’s neurochemical underpinnings. You might have thought for a moment of the languages and dialects heard around you, or of the differing facial features, skin colours or cultural habits of other tribes and nations—all of which the book you have heard recited claims are signs of the greatness of God.